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South Beach Wine & Food Festival to Return in May With COVID Measures

South Beach Wine & Food Festival founder Lee Schrager.
South Beach Wine & Food Festival founder Lee Schrager.
Photo courtesy of SOBEWFF
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The website for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival's 20th edition goes live this morning. Tickets for the event, which will take place May 20-23, 2021, go on sale next Monday, March 22.

The festival, which was rescheduled after being postponed from February, will have a different look this year, with fewer events and its marquee parties broken into multiple sessions to allow for social distancing.

Additionally, the festivities will take place with strict COVID restrictions, including requiring guests and participants alike to provide proof of a recent coronavirus test or proof of vaccination.

Festival founder Lee Brian Schrager tells New Times the decision to move the dates to May was the right one. "We didn't feel like we could deliver a safe and comfortable festival in February," Schrager says. "That's our commitment to the city, and we want to do it right."

Schrager says he's confident his team will put together a weekend that's fun, educational, and — most crucial of all — safe for guests and culinary participants.

Events will decrease in number from about 130 last year to about 70 this year. No events will take place indoors, with the exception of small wine tastings that will set up with socially distanced seating. The tribute dinner — usually held in the ballroom of the Loews Miami Beach Hotel — will be moved to an outdoor area on the hotel's, property. (This year, by the way, Giada De Laurentiis and the former Bacardi CEO, Eduardo Sardina, will be feted and Gloria and Emilio Estefan will serve as emcees.)

The festival's premier tented events, such as the Burger Bash, Bubble Q, and Grand Tasting Village, will be split into two sessions per day, with sessions capped at 50 percent capacity at most. The capacity for the Grand Tasting Village, for example, will be for 2,000 guests instead of 7,000. Guests will follow a designated circuit around the venue. Celebrity culinary demonstrations will go on, but there will be no meet-and-greets this year. Between sessions, the festival tents and all surfaces will be thoroughly sanitized.

"We will clean everything. The only thing we didn't do was to hire a Zamboni," Schrager quips.

The Best of the Best, usually held at the Fontainebleau's ballroom, will take place on the hotel's terrace. The event will be split into two sessions, one on Friday evening, the second the following night.

Schrager says that, with the implementation of two sessions for each marquee event, ticket holders will benefit from shorter lines for entry and shorter waits for food.

Still, he urges guests to arrive on time and expect to leave promptly afterward. "When the event is over it is over," he says. "There will be no lingering."

Masks will be required at all times except when eating and drinking at designated areas.

"You can go up to [a] station and be given, let's say, a beef empanada. You cannot remove your mask. You have to go to a table and eat."

Schrager adds that sponsor installations will be kept to a minimum to make room for additional seating. Hand sanitization stations will be installed and the venues will be constantly sanitized.

Most important of all, everyone — from celebrities to chefs to volunteers to ticket holders — “can expect to provide proof and/or attestation to [sic] a negative PCR COVID-19 test dated no more than 72 hours prior to the event(s) or alternatively proof of completed COVID-19 vaccination,” in addition to on-premises temperature scanning and a contactless ticketing system, according to a press release the SOBEWFF sent out this morning. For those who don't have documentation, a rapid COVID testing station will be set up on-site, along with temperature checks for all.

Schrager says the guidelines will be strictly enforced. "You have to follow the policies and procedures or you will be asked to leave. I hope we don't stay like this forever, but we wanted to do everything in our power to keep people safe."

The festival consulted with the Florida International Healthcare Committee and used CDC guidelines to draw up its COVID guidelines. The complete guidelines can be found on the SOBEWFF website.

Schrager hopes that festivalgoers will understand the rules put into place and hopes this festival serves as a role model for other organizations trying to plan a festival in 2021. "There are no trade secrets."

The festival, which started in 2001, will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2021.The event, which benefits the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Florida International University, will focus on Miami talent this year. "The commitment is on local talent and rebuilding the reputation Miami has as being a great culinary destination." About 80 percent of chefs and restaurants participating in the 2021 festival are local", says Schrager.

Schrager expects the festival goes smoothly and hopes that people are just a little understanding with the changes. "I'd like to say we're going to be great. We won't be perfect, but we are going to try really hard."

One upside, says Schrager, is that the swag this year will probably prove to be quite useful. "I would venture to say there will be mask giveaways. I think you're going to see a lot of promotional masks."

South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Thursday, May 20, to Sunday, May 23, 2021. Various locations and ticket prices. Tickets go on sale Monday, March 22, at sobewff.org.

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